Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Bicycle Jokers

(updated early 2021)
The Bicycle Joker is among the most classic American jokers. It might be the premier American joker. Bicycle Playing Cards are a brand and are published by the US Playing Card Company (thus the U and S on top of each other index position on the Bicycle Jokers). This section does NOT include Unicycle Jokers but it does include all two wheeled and in some cases four wheeled cycles. More on that below.

Here is my personal favorite, the colored version of the classic Bicycle Joker. The Hochman Encyclopedia of Playing Cards shows this type of image first appeared in 1905 (Page 90). It was a black and white image back then.

Bicycle Card Joker
Bicycle Card Joker

And then here are a sample of the many variations of these bicycle jokers. First, the blue background:

An interesting yellow coloring...

Before we leave the classic Bicycle joker section, lets do a little history.  This design dates to the origin story of jokers, the "Best Bower", an extra card required by the game of euchre.  Note the date call out at the bottom: 1885.  The Hochman Encyclopedia of Cards (Page 90) shows this design as RMP, 1885.  (This one is a from a modern deck published by USPC which reproduces the original).

Here's another variation of the big wheeled old style bicycle but without the reference to the Best Bower or the date.  

These big wheeled bikes were developed in the 1870s because the larger front wheel made it possible to ride much faster. These bikers were either known as  "Penny-farthings", a "High wheel", or a "High wheeler" and were popular for about 20 years, the 1870s and 1880s.  

My guess as to why they were called "Penny farthings" is that the British Penny coin was much much larger then the British quarter-penny coin and somehow, the visual of a big penny coin and the little farthing coin were reminiscent of the big and small wheels.  Can anyone correct or confirm?  

 When the more modern bikes with chain wheel drives were developed in the 1890s, the new style of bikes were called "Safety bike" (since the fall wasn't from as high up) and the big wheelers became known as  "Ordinary".

This next joker, shown front and back, is also a modern recreation made to look old of the Bicycle joker. It might be the modern Series 1800 Bicycle decks. 

Here's a particularly interesting effect: see through cards which can be played with!

The last bicycle joker to be pictured is a modern design by the incomparable joker designer, Randy Butterfield.   I hope to interview him soon to get the inside scoop on the story of this design.

Here I'll note that I consider this a bicycle section which covers all two wheeled (or more) jokers, whether Bicycle brand or not. For instance:

 Here are a little over ten pages of bicycle jokers. Do the math. That's 90ish! (updated 10/30/2020). How many different variations are there? Probably a lot especially if you count rip-offs or slight variations in printing. 

This next page is all about the penny farthing bicycles. 
Now the bicycles gets a little weirder and wilder.

Would the top left joker below be an quadracycle? A bibicycle? 

And lets finish big with two particularly bizarre bicycles.

I'm putting up the unicycle jokers as a separate section. They're grouped with the skaters. Check them out now!

The bicycle section of this collection use to be the Bicycle and USPC section. USPC means the US Playing Card Company which often uses the U overlapping with the S in the top left adn bottom right corners of the card (see above).  From when the entire USPC section was together, there was a post about the joker card below with the imps which I had included here but it really has its own section where it was once considered the oldest joker in my collection:


Here's the info provided in a FB discussion of this joker:

Paul Bostock The design (those 'imps') looks like National Playing cards. I checked Hochman and it is Nu13 1896. At that time, National had recently been bought by USPC, hence using their letters on the Joker. 

Chris Turner National or USPC joker from the special deck for the game 500. These are originals. Look at the vertical lines in the finish of the paper stock. Newer cards (after 1960s) do not show those lines with age. 

Decks have 63 or 65 cards, depending in the variety, including 11, 12 and 13s and one joker. USPC made the 500 deck until the late 2000s. 

The Griffin back seen here is the most commonly found. Other backs included a swastika from when that symbol was considered a sign of good luck. 

Deck made in red and blue. Slip cases with gold embossing first, then later, a larger tuck box. 500 decks of all vintages are still out there at the junk stores and estate sales — and rarely are expensive. 

Finally, it is a wonderful game. The favorite at my house. Four or five players use a standard deck with one joker; six players use the 63 or 65 card deck. 

Dan Nordquist: The characters are the "Palmer Cox Brownies" who were popular cartoonish characters from the early 20th century. National playing cards created the "look" and was bought up by USPC as someone else said. If you like the look of the Brownies, there are others around besides the ones sitting in a circle. Probably the greatest would be the Schlitz beer advertising deck that has them on the Joker. There are also some Joker pics that show them about to launch a huge snowball off a roof at other cartoon characters. And a second Joker that shows the aftermath of the snowball falling on everyone below. Those are all black and white. But the really rare one is a color version of them playing billiards / pool. 

What to see next?
Want to see the  Unicycle Jokers ?
How about more travel vehicle jokers?

1 comment:

  1. Hey, I've been collecting decks of cards and as an extension their jokers. I've been trying to find information on when Bicycle started coloring their jokers and what decks have variant colors of them.

    If you know anything or where I might find that information I'd appreciate a shout. Email's


Thanks for your input.